John Romita Jr.: Best Job in the WorldA comics interview article by: Sam Salama Cohén
At this year's SDCC I got the chance to spend some time with legendary artist John Romita Jr. (Spider-Man, Avengers), who has been in the biz for 34 years, drawing almost every Marvel character. In the thick of SDCC, I spoke with JRJR about how it felt at the beginning, how the present feels and what can we expect to see in the future from this master storyteller. Expect more Avengers projects, more Kick-Ass and...a movie?
Sam Salama Cohén: Well, let's start off if it's fine by you?
John Romita Jr.: Yes!
Salama Cohén: You've been doing comics for more than 30 years...
Romita Jr.: Yes.
Salama Cohén: And...
Romita Jr.: I started when I was two! (laughs)
Salama Cohén: (laughs) You started when you were two with your father! You are called a legend, right now...
Romita Jr.: Oh, that means old...
Salama Cohén: No, that means you've done a lot of things in comics...
Romita Jr.: Thank you.
Salama Cohén: ...And that they are relevant for the medium, so...
Romita Jr.: Thank you very much.
Salama Cohén: Does that push you to work harder and to do different things? What does that mean?
Romita Jr.: In my mind, when you do it a long time-- and there are always young artists that are coming up-- you have to get better, even when you are older, otherwise you won't have a job when you're older. So the competition is there, to make you work harder.
And with writers I think it's a little bit different because it's not as immediate as artists. If I were to get old and lazy, it would be immediately noticed. With writing I don't think it's as immediate, it's more subtle. And writers can be vital in their minds forever. With art it really is a physical thing, you have to sit there and you are literally drawing. Writers can type and they can relax, artists it's a little bit more physical.
Salama Cohén: Your hands can't relax!
Romita Jr.: Yes. So there's a certain amount of physicality to it...
Salama Cohén: Yeah.
Romita Jr.: And there's so much competition in art, and every week there's another young artist around, and if I don't pay attention and try hard, then it gets noticed and I won't have work anymore.
Salama Cohén: You're right, yeah.
Romita Jr.: So I have a competitive spirit even at this age, I've been doing it 34 years and I still have the urge to be great, even though I don't know if I'll get there, but I still want to be great. I want one year when I do everything just right, and if I do that and have one great year, maybe I won't be as unhappy if I retire one day. But if I don't get to that point I'll always be competing with other people to get to that point. Or if I get rich and hit the lottery, I will...
Salama Cohén: (laughs) That works for everyone, I think.
Romita Jr.'s Agent: He will neeever retire...
Romita Jr.: I hope not. At least, I won't retire as an artist, but maybe in deadlines. Because deadlines for writers and artists, it can really grate on you-- working two days straight without sleeping and so on.
Salama Cohén: In mainstream comics it is very important to remain consistent.
Romita Jr.: Always. You have to. So as an artist I think I'll always be an artist, but I don't know if I'll always be on deadlines forever.
Salama Cohén: Ok. Well, you started following your dad's steps, which was a huge...
Romita Jr.: Huge steps to follow!
Salama Cohén: Yeah, big shoes to fill, right? And you started following the character he helped define, Spider-Man, on The Amazing Spider-Man title.
Romita Jr.: Yes, yes.
Salama Cohén: How did that feel for you?
Romita Jr.: It was difficult for me, only in my mind. My father never made me feel that way. Family members didn't make me feel that way. But in my mind I was competing, ‘cause it's right there, in front of me. And then trying to work in the business people treated me very badly, because they thought I was trying to get work because of my father...
Salama Cohén: I see...
Romita Jr.: It made me work harder, and maybe that's why I still work so hard right now, ‘cause I feel I have to show people.
Salama Cohén: To prove it, yeah.
Romita Jr.: So, I'm happy that that's there, because it keeps me competitive, but the only intimidation was in my mind, nobody else. And the people that didn't matter to me, said bad things, stupid things...I had to shut my mouth and not get angry. Otherwise it works against me. But all it mattered to me was my work, my father and my boss. And if they were happy, they would give me more work. And as time went on, I think I've proved myself.
Salama Cohén: Great. Right now you are working with Brian Michael Bendis on Avengers...
Romita Jr.: Yes.
Salama Cohén: You're a tough guy, an action guy, at least in your comics...
Romita Jr.: Yes!
Salama Cohén: So how is the collaboration with BMB working, since he's much quieter and loves talking-head scenes?
Romita Jr.: That's a good point, that's a very good point. He has adapted to the characters and the series and asked for a lot of action, and I give my action an extra "oomph!" because this is the Avengers. Yes, he did a lot of quiet stuff before, but he's into this and everybody's responsible about the action. I just give him what he doesn't ask for...
Salama Cohén: Ah, ok! (laughs)
Romita Jr.: I give him me. So it works well.
Salama Cohén: So the collaboration so far, has been an easy one?
Romita Jr.: Even more difficult than I imagined. I always imagined that I could handle any writer, because I've got many years of experience, but he asks for things that are so difficult, and not because they are bad, but because there's so many characters and the choreography of conversation...
Salama Cohén: That's right...
Romita Jr.: And sometimes, when you have 20 characters on a scene, it's hard to have conversations going on properly, and he doesn't ask for it in proper order...
Salama Cohén: Yeah, Spidey says this, then Thor there says that...
Romita Jr.: Yes. And they're in different positions, so how do you...And I have to make sure everybody's in the proper order, so that's a challenge! Let alone the action of 20 characters at once.
Salama Cohén: You've adapted to working in noir settings...
Romita Jr.: Yes.
Salama Cohén: ...And dark characters...
Romita Jr.: Yes.
Salama Cohén: You have excelled at working on Wolverine, the Punisher...Is there a noir writer that you would like to collaborate with?
Romita Jr.: Hmmmm...
Salama Cohén: You know, I have this project that I want to pitch to this writer...
Romita Jr.: Well, I want to do a Dr. Strange series, I love the character.
Salama Cohén: Really?
Romita Jr.: And as far as who I would choose...That's a great question, I don't think I can answer it right now, I don't know! I know I'd like to work with Frank Miller again, or Michael Straczynski again, John Byrne again...there's so many guys I've...and Mark Millar, I work with now...
Salama Cohén: Straczynski has tackled Doctor Strange series in the past so...
Romita Jr.: Yeah, he did, so I should talk to him. I don't know about somebody new...Alan Moore, because he doesn't like me very much.
Salama Cohén: (laughs) Really?
Romita Jr.: And I don't know why. Personally he doesn't like me. Maybe I'd like to work with him because he doesn't like me.
Salama Cohén: (laughs) It's a challenge!
Romita Jr.: (laughs) It's like dancing with the girl that does not want to dance with you, that's right.
Salama Cohén: (laughs) It's difficult but there's a challenge!
Romita Jr.: There's a challenge! (laughs)
Salama Cohén: And, after having worked so many years in comics, is there something that you haven't done and you desperately want to do?
Romita Jr.: I think I have always had the urge to direct a film. Because when I went to school there was something about sequential art, and film, because of storyboards in films...
Salama Cohén: Yeah.
Romita Jr.: And my father got it in my head that comic writers and artists are pretty close to being filmmakers, it's just stopped action. And I think since that comment was made-- and I have been a film buff all my life-- I think I would like to try that. I don't know if it's gonna happen, but when I worked in the Kick-Ass movie I had the chance to work on the whole filming process...
Salama Cohén: Yeah, I loved your art on the movie, and those storyboards...
Romita Jr.: I think I'd like to try it. It's related to comics now, but it wasn't so in that way. But now comics and movies are pretty close.
Salama Cohén: You're seeing a way to get in there...
Romita Jr.: Maybe, yeah, I'd like to try.
Salama Cohén: Well, Mark Millar is in the business now, so... (laughs)
Romita Jr.: That's right, that's right!
Salama Cohén: I bet you'd do great.
Romita Jr.: I hope so, I'd like to try!
Salama Cohén: Going back to your recent work on Avengers, how do you feel about the washed, almost painted style your art has on the final pages?
Romita Jr.: I like the result, the work is affected by the color and the printing, and this is high-quality color and high-quality printing, but I don't change my style according to the new technology or new printing, but it has altered your mindset in that you don't feel the need to do so much dark shadowing, because the colors can paint. So you speak to the color artist beforehand and you say "What can you do with these scenes? Do I need to do so much shadowing?" And he'll go "No you don't, but you can indicate and I will color."
So there's a different mindset depending on the technology, but I'm very happy whenever the book comes out, the printing quality is excellent and the colorist is amazing.
Salama Cohén: When are we going to see you next?
Romita Jr.: I'm gonna finish my run on Avengers and then I'll work on another project that is related to the Avengers, so I'm not really done with the Avengers. And then I'm still working on Kick-Ass, and then I'll be working on Kick-Ass: Hit Girl and another arc of Kick-Ass.
Salama Cohén: So you and Mark Millar are becoming partners in crime, with Kick-Ass?
Romita Jr.: Yes. There's another arc before the second one is finished and then I'll be working on the Hit-Girl mini-series before the third.
Salama Cohén: Are you collaborating on the new movie?
Romita Jr.: If they come up with the second movie, yes, but not yet, hasn't been announced yet.
Salama Cohén: Oh, ok. I bet that, having worked with so many writers and so many editors you must have many anecdotes...
Romita Jr.: Of course! None of which I can tell you! (laughs)
Salama Cohén: (laughs) Tell me one, tell me the funniest one!
Romita Jr.: The funniest one...I got a chance to work with John Byrne, who everybody said was not a nice man...
Salama Cohén: A difficult man, yeah.
Romita Jr.: He ended up being the nicest man I've ever worked with, and he put my name first, instead of the writer's.
Salama Cohén: Yeah? Really?
Romita Jr.: It's the first time it ever happened. So you don't listen to what they say about people until you meet them.
Salama Cohén: Yeah, you're right.
Romita Jr.: The other anecdotes are all very dirty and I can't tell you! (laughter)
Salama Cohén: (laughter) Ok, well, and is there anything else you would like to tell us?
Romita Jr.: This has been the fastest 34 years in the history of mankind, and that shows you how much fun the job is. And that's all I have to say, it's the best job in the world.
Salama Cohén: Thank you very much!
Romita Jr.: My pleasure!